Talk by David Philiponna (from Paris). Given to the Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at UC Berkeley on January 27, 2010.
Explaining sensations poses a quandary to science. Indeed, the dominant view today is that consciousness arises from the actions of the brain, and that sensations should therefore be explained from neuronal specifics. Yet, no one has ever produced any satisfactory theory as to how cortical mechanisms should generate phenomenal experiences of different sorts. Huxley famously argued that this was just "as unaccountable as the appearance of Djin when Aladdin rubbed his lamp". The answer to this quandary may lie in a better understanding of the brain, some argue. But there is another possibility: the previous perspective might be all wrong. I will give a glimpse of the so-called "sensorimotor" approach, that provides a different viewpoint on sensations. From this viewpoint, it makes no sense to think of phenomenal experience as a something "generated". The main part of the talk will be to show how such an approach provides a framework allowing to account for the sensation of space and the classification of colors. As for the former, I will show that characteristic properties of space can indeed be conceived of as properties of our sensorimotor interactions. As for the latter, I will show that a sensorimotor approach allows to make predictions of the data collected by the World Colour Survey about colour naming, and by psychophysicists about so-called "unique hues".